Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine has recused herself from presiding over a civil case involving former city officials, in part because of criticism she received because she did not recuse herself from a case involving former Blue Grass Airport executives.
The case is a 2004 lawsuit filed by former Urban County Councilman Jacques Wigginton, who says former Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon spread false and defamatory statements about him.
Goodwine heard oral arguments on Scanlon's motion for summary judgment in early 2010. Following the oral arguments, Goodwine began to review the case in depth, including depositions of the parties and other affidavits, she said in a recusal letter filed in Fayette Circuit Court on Aug. 25.
Goodwine noted in her letter that while she was reviewing Wigginton's lawsuit, she presided over a "highly publicized, divisive case" involving former airport executive director Michael Gobb and former airport directors John Rhodes, John Coon and John Slone.
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Issues were raised in the airport case after Goodwine sentenced Rhodes, Coon and Slone. Reports surfaced that Goodwine had attended at least two meetings of a Blue Grass Airport citizens advisory committee with the men who had recently appeared before her in court.
Before sentencing Gobb, Goodwine told the defense and prosecution that she would transfer Gobb's case to another judge if either side objected to her imposing sentence on Gobb. Neither did.
Gobb was sentenced to five years in prison on each of two counts of felony theft by deception, but Goodwine probated the sentence for five years. The judge also sentenced Gobb to six months in jail but suspended the sentence. Goodwine gave the other defendants conditional discharges after they pleaded guilty to theft-related charges stemming from their expenditure of airport money.
The sentences were lighter than those recommended by prosecutors.
"This court was highly criticized for not recusing herself from those cases despite not being aware that the four defendants attended any of the four one-hour meetings she attended between January 2002 and April of 2003, not to mention that the criminal investigation involved the years 2006 through 2008," Goodwine said in the letter.
As she reviewed Wigginton's case, Goodwine said she recognized that "derogatory racial comments were made about this court by parties interested in the outcome of this case."
She said the comments did not cause her concern until she reread deposition testimony and realized that the same person who made the comments "about this court also made similarly shocking statements about persons involved in this case."
Goodwine's letter did not say who made the racial comments. A woman answering the phone in Goodwine's office said the judge had no comment.
"This court does not believe that either party or their attorney had anything to do with these comments," Goodwine wrote. "But this court is concerned that any decision I make in this case involving two previous public figures will be seen or viewed as something it is not, i.e., racially motivated."
Scanlon's attorney, Barbara Edelman, said she did not know specifics about the comments Goodwine referred to in her recusal.
"I do have the upmost respect for her, and I believe that she has the highest integrity," Edelman said. "And if she believes that she needs to recuse, I'm sure she has a good reason."
Wigginton's attorney, James Morris, said he would have liked for Goodwine to stay on the case.
"I was very saddened to have her not involved because she is an excellent judge," Morris said. "I respect her and her decision-making on everything."
Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark will hear the case.